Music on Bones – Hearing Beatle Music the Hard Way

One of our favourite Beatle websites is The Beatles Get Back in the USSR – mostly because it’s a treasure trove of information on every aspect of Beatle collecting in Russia, but also because it is clearly a labour of love and a remarkable resource.

The level of research, scholarship and effort that’s been put into this site is immediately obvious. Not to mention the amazing and extensive image libraries accompanying each topic written about.

If, for example, you’re interested in all the different pressings and versions of Paul McCartney’s ‘Russian album’ Choba B CCCP (first issued on the Melodiya label in 1988), then you can’t go past the site’s chapters on it here (first edition – 11 tracks), here (mispressed edition – 12 tracks), and here (second edition – 13 tracks). The depth of information is impressive.

The latest example of this sort of thorough analysis has recently been uploaded to the site. 

Web pages for a chapter called Illegal and Semi-legal Beatles Releases in the USSR are the result of more than ten years of work to find records/images/information and to analyze and describe all the content – and it tells an extraordinary tale. These illegal and semi-legal releases bear witness to the extraordinary lengths people in Cold War Russia went to hear and share western music, especially rock’n’roll, and of course – Beatle music.

Right through the 1960s, and well into the1970’s, there were practically zero officially released Beatles records issued Russia. Rock music was considered decadent and not suitable for the masses. So, the people took matters into their own hands.

Using smuggled-in originals from England and Europe, they made their own un-official copies of songs the only ways they knew how. This was done using two main processes. The first was to utilise the many small, commercial recording booths that were dotted around Russian cities and towns. These were set up to record short audio ‘postcards’ that could be sent through the post. This was, back in the day, a popular way of sending loved ones a message along with a photograph of the place or holiday location you’d been visiting. They looked something like this:The postcard/record above is like a one-sided flexidisc, with the “message” recorded onto the picture side. But this particular example contains a recording of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’! These ‘postcard’ flexies played at 78rpm and only conatined enough space for one song. Also, the quality wasn’t great – but, you got to hear The Beatles in a country that didn’t allow you to freely listen to them.

The other means of copying and distribution was through home tinkerers who set up illegal recording lathes to cut Beatle songs directly onto old medical x-rays. Yes, medical x-rays. These became known as “music on bones” or “music on ribs” – for obvious reasons:These freaky-looking x-rays above both have a Beatle song cut into them and they can be played on a turntable.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and these thick celluloid sheets of x-ray film were one of the few resources available to people in Soviet Russia at the time.

Like the postcard/records, these “music on bones” play at 78rpm, and to be honest, to our ears now they don’t sound that great. But this was the only way that anyone was going to be able to hear this type of music at the time. And don’t forget – making them and owning recordings like these could get you into big trouble with the authorities. Some ended up in prison just because they wanted to listen to rock’n’roll.  

This is fascinating history and you can spend quite a while on the site discovering a lot more about this little-known avenue of Beatle collecting. A shout out to Andrey, an old friend of beatlesblogger.com and one of the contributors to the extraordinary research that has gone into creating this online resource.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the front page where you’ll see a series of images. These are all links leading to the sub-chapters with many examples, more detailed information and sometimes videos of the discs actually playing.

And see below for a short documentary on the strange story of Soviet “music on bones” – gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones:

Russian Fake Beatle Records and Sleeves Exposed

If you collect Beatle discs from around the world then the Russian Beatle site beatlesvinyl.com.ua is a goldmine of information for records from that country:

Alongside their already impressive catalogue and detail about every official Beatle and solo release in that country, they’ve just added a massive new section on fake pressings and sleeves:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As usual, the detail and depth of their research and knowledge is first-rate. We’ve used it extensively to research our collection of different pressings of Paul McCartney’s Choba B CCCP for example (see here, and here).

The site is in Russian and English, and alongside all the local releases (both official and fake) it contains a comprehensive and up-to-date general catalogue of every Beatle and solo release from the UK/EU, and the US, plus a whole section on Apple Records as well.

There’s also a big section on Beatle cover versions over the years by Russian artists.

Comprehensive New Russian Beatles Books Released

We have a lot of Russian readers and so it’s appropriate to mention what looks like a very comprehensive, two-volume Beatles book published recently in Russia.

Earlier this year Vladimir Bokarev and Yury Mitrofanov released the two-volume book called ИСТОРИЯ “БИТЛЗ” В СССР (1964-1970 гг). That translates as The History of the Beatles in the USSR (1964-1970). Here’s the cover of Volume One:Том1

And here’s Volume Two:

Том2

These publications form a forensic, historical research of the Beatles as a phenomenon in Soviet society. Through examining numerous historical sources the authors show the evolution and rise of the popularity of the Beatles in the Soviet press, Beatle art in the Soviet Union (for example through their records, printed music, lyrics and translations, concert performances by other artists, films, etc.), and the influence of the Beatles on Soviet youth.

Record images and other items shown in the books come from the collections of Andrey Lukanin (Russia), and Vadim Legkokonets (Ukraine). As well there’s a wealth of information provided from these two great websites:
http://www.beatlesvinyl.com.ua/
http://beatlespress.com.ua/

To order this set of two books (published only in Russian) write to beatera@yandex.ru

The authors plan to continue the work and publish a further book on the same theme – but about the years 1971-1980.

Another Variation of McCartney’s Choba b CCCP

Another variation of Paul McCartney’s Russian album Снова в СССР has come into the collection. I found another version on Ebay which I didn’t have. It was listed by an Australian seller (so postage was relatively safe, fast and cheap). It was also at a very reasonable price and so I couldn’t resist:

Choba b CCCP frontChoba b CCCP rearChoba b CCCP

Снова в СССР is Russian for “Back in the USSR” and last time I posted on this was way back in 2010 when I detailed some of the other variations in my collection. I had five different vinyl pressings then, plus the CD edition, but there are actually almost too many variations of this LP to count. This latest one I have comes from the Aprelevka pressing plant which was just on the outskirts of Moscow. It’s the 1989, thirteen track version.

You can see all the many variations of this disc at the amazing The Beatles Get Back in the USSR website. To get to the key Снова в СССР entries go to the site’s pages detailing the original 11 track release; the more common 13 track release (which we have here); and the very rare mis-pressed 12 track release. As well as the many label variations from the different Russian pressing plants you’ll be able to explore the many cover variations in the printing of this album as well.

Kisses on the Bottom – Some Further Variations

When Paul McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom” CD and LP was released earlier this year we posted on all the known variations at that time.

This week I had an email from Andrey in Russia alerting me to not one, but three further variations.

They are all Russian editions of the CD version of “Kisses”:
*  A 14-track official CD in a digipack – with an official Russian Universal Music small sticker on the front,
*  A 14-track illegal or pirate CD in a jewel case (using the same cover as the EU official version) and,
*  A 16-track illegal or pirate “Deluxe” CD+DVD (of the iTunes Live concert) in a cardboard digipack.

Andrey kindly sent some great scans of the covers, so here they are. Firstly the official Russian Universal Music edition, with 14 tracks in a cardboard digipack sleeve. You can see the official sticker on the front:

Note in the small print the official Russian publication details on the back.

Next an “unofficial” or pirate version which comes in a plastic jewel case:

And finally, the other “unofficial” or pirate edition. This time it is the Deluxe 16-track version of the CD. It comes in a cardboard digipack complete with a “bonus” DVD containing the Apple iTunes launch concert of the album live from the Capitol studios in Hollywood, California. This, to my knowledge, has never been officially released in hard copy like this. (However, if you purchased the official Deluxe edition you do get a bonus digital download of the same performance):

(To see larger versions of all the covers above just click on the images)

Thanks to Russian collector Andrey for this information and the images. See also the terrific website beatlesvinyl.com.ua for comprehensive information, images and details of other USSR and Russian Beatles releases.

If you have any interesting Beatles or solo releases feel free to email us at beatlesblogger@gmail.com

UPDATE:  The very informed and accurate Wogblog site is reporting that the Capitol Studios live concert performance of “Kisses on the Bottom” will be officially released on DVD on September 7th. Thanks for that Roger. Here’s the promo poster for the DVD: